Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chrontendo has List-o-mania

While we're waiting for my voice to recover, I guess we can spend a little time discussing something touched on in the upcoming Chrontendo 26. Namely, the vast disparity in the tastes of Japanese and Western gamers. No one would be surprised that folks in Japan, with their undying love for talky RPGs, Visual Novels, Dating Sims, and straight-up porn games, don't always see eye to eye with gamers in the US (who love First Person Shooters, PC Strategy games, and sports games). But there must be some points on which gamers on both sides of the Pacific agree; everyone loves Mario and Zelda, right?

And while, yes, that is true, Japanese gamers do tend to view the canon of "Great Video Games" a little differently than we do. The jumping off point for this discussion is a reader's poll undertaken by the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu in 2006. Famitsu is the most widely read, prestigious gaming magazine in Japan; there's nothing quite equivalent to it in the US. So I'm going to assume Famitsu's readership is pretty representative of the Japanese geek population: mainstream enough to be interested in the big, popular games Famitsu promotes, but hardcore enough to actually bother reading a video game magazine.

Famitsu's readers voted on the all-time best video games, and the magazine compiled the results into a list of 100 titles. Looking at the top ten is quite revealing.

1. Final Fantasy X (PS2)
2. Final Fantasy VII (PS)
3. Dragon Quest III (Famicom)
4. Dragon Quest VIII (PS2)
5. Machi (PS/Saturn)
6. Final Fantasy IV (Super Famicom)
7. Tactics Ogre (Super Famicom)
8. Final Fantasy III (Famicom)
9. Dragon Quest VII (PS)
10. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

Damn! We know they love Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest in Japan - but SEVEN out of the top ten? Apparently the best Playstation, PS2 and Super Famicom games are all Final Fantasy titles? And for those who are wondering, Machi is a visual novel from Chunsoft, and Tactics Ogre is a tactical RPG from Quest.

We are the champions.

And the next ten games on the list? Six more Square/Enix RPGs, two games in Sega's dating sim/RPG series, Sakura Taisen, one Hudson RPG... and Street Fighter II. Entries 21-30 contain another seven Square/Enix RPGs.

One of the striking things about the list is just how monolithic it is. RPGs completely dominate. Aside from the Square/Enix games, we'll find such series as Ogre, Megami Tensei, Tales, Mother, Mystery Dungeon, Grandia, and Fire Emblem.... Yet certain series are completely and inexplicable locked out: Capcom's Breath of Fire, Sega's Phantasy Star and Shining games, Konami's Suikoden, and Game Art's Lunar. Most baffling of all is the exclusion of series from the otherwise over-represented publishers, namely Enix's Star Ocean games and Nintendo's Mario RPGs.

For comparison, I picked out a couple random top ten lists from English language sources. First up is a very recent list from GameSpite's readership. The site has somewhat of a retro/Japanese bias, so one would think there would be some points of intersections with Famitu's list.

1. Super Metroid (SNES)
2. Chrono Trigger (SNES)
3. Final Fantasy VI (SNES)
4. Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)
6. Mega Man 2 (NES)
7. Final Fantasy Tactics (PS)
8. EarthBound (SNES)
9. Super Mario World (SNES)
10. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS)

And from a somewhat more mainstream source, here's IGN's list from 2005.

1. Resident Evil 4 (GC/PS2)
2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
3. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (PS2/XBox)
4. Chrono Trigger (SNES)
5. Half-Life 2 (PC/XBox)
6. God of War (PS2)
7. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2)
8. Soul Calibur (DC)
9. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)
10. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

These two lists have more in common that is immediately obvious. Super Metroid, Final Fantasy IV and Symphony of the Night all place very high in IGN's list, just below the top ten. And Ocarina of Time and MGS 3 made the top 20 of GameSpite's list. Both lists share numerous titles, including, interestingly enough, Suikoden II.

Suikoden: Weirdly popular in the West

After scanning enough of such lists, a cannon of classic Japanese video games emerges: Zelda and Super Mario 3 for the NES. Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI and Link to the Past for the SNES. Symphony of the Night, Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation. Super Mario 64, Goldeneye 007 and Ocarina of Time for the N64.

Oddly, with few exceptions, these games aren't topping Japan's list. Chrono Trigger checks in at #28, Link to the Past at #31, Metal Gear Solid at #50, and Super Mario Bros. 3 at... #99! Super Metroid, Symphony of the Night, Goldeneye 007, and Super Mario 64 do not make the Famitsu list at all. Crazy, huh?

Mario is Missing

When the chips are down, it seems the one game both East and West can agree upon without reservation is Ocarina of Time. I guess it has just the right amount of action, exploration, RPG elements, cuteness and ease of use for everyone.

A few stray observations. Out of the top 40 games on the Famitsu list, 29 are either Square, Enix or Nintendo.

US gamers like Sega RPGs more than Japanese gamers. If its not
Sakura Taisen, it's not on the Famitsu list.

Sega consoles are under represented on the
Famitsu list. Only three Genesis games make the top 100.

US lists tend to give equal space to both Western and Japanese games. The
Famitsu top 100 contains only three Western games.

Saga series rates much better than Seiken Densetsu/Mana on the Famitsu list with only Secret of Mana at #97.

Loved the world over.


A few other Western top 10s.

EGM, 2005

1. Super Metroid
2. Tetris
3. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
4. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
5. Super Mario 64
6. Soul Calibur
7. Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
8. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
9. Final Fantasy VI
10. Super Mario World

GameFaqs, 2005

1. Final Fantasy VII
2. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
3. Chrono Trigger
4. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
5. Super Mario Bros. 3
6. Super Smash Bros. Melee
7. GoldenEye 007
8. Metal Gear Solid
9. Halo
10 Final Fantasy VI

Edge, 2007

1. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
2. Resident Evil 4
3. Super Mario 64
4. Half Life 2
5. Super Mario World
6. Zelda: A Link to the Past
7. Halo
8. Final Fantasy XII
9. Tetris
10. Super Metroid

What does every Western top 10 have in common?
A Link to the Past.

Some pics ripped from GameFaqs.


Anonymous said...

"3. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (PS2/XBox)"

this is the one that sticks out like a sore thumb, can't imagine it's turned up on many other lists.

Unknown said...

Which were the three western games on the Famitsu list?

Doctor Sparkle said...

Well, the world was still awash in Chaos Theory mania when that list came out. Enthusiasm for that game may have cooled a bit in the last few years. Not that its a bad game or anything.

The three western games all rank pretty low in the Famitsu list: GTA Vice City, Sim City and, the highest ranked at #66, Wizardry. That series was pretty popular in Japan, and they still make Japan only Wizardry games this day. Coincidentally, we cover Wizardry in Chrontendo 26.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deu├čer said...

Hmm, it is interesting thinking about old western RPGs and there presence today...WIzardry is pretty much dead in the west, but I can imagine it has a fanbase in Japan. The groundbreaking Ultima Series was discontined after Ultima IX (except some occasional Addons for Ultima Online, which has a loving fanbase still today), and the IP is rotting at EA (and after the terrible year they had pretty unlikely to reappear in the near future), Bards Tale and Pool of Radiance had each a remake which both tanked. Dungeon Master was discontinued after the retroesque Dungeon Master II from '95 (which was really cool...and which I should finish one day...), because the company was bankrupt...and I believe the IP also lies with EA. Eye of the Beholder was interesting (there is also an fun Speedrun on the SNES Version, which is better suited for speedrunning than the PC Version), and the AD&D license was continued with Baldurs Gate, Icewind Dale and so on, though after D&D Online and the later Neverwinter Nights 2 it lies pretty much dormant for now (afaik). The last western RPG which hold up the classical virtues of the good 'ol days was Dragon Age: Origins from...just a month or so ago...and Drakensang from 2008, continuing the Dark Eye PC-Game Trilogy from 1992 till 1996. But these games (except of course that Bioware Blockbuster) were not recogniced widely except in germany, cause the Dark Eye is a german Pen&Paper RPG (and when you start reading the sourcebooks, you realize it is VERY german). Though the sequel to Drakensang is arriving in Feb 2010 and is very likely to continue after that, the western RPGs are kinda dead...and I believe it is related to the rise of home consoles and the japanese proficiency with it, while the western RPGs counted on PCs...which was a flawed idea if you think about it today.
Though this forum is part of Chrontendo, I would like to see youre memories about western RPGs and theyre represantation today, and youre thoughts which is the better plattform for RPGs. I personaly like to play an RPG with a mouse, though I played much RPGs with Gamepad.

Doctor Sparkle said...

Well, I'll confess, I've never even heard of the Dark Eye games, nor Drakensang, but I suppose that just shows how little attention most PC RPGs get nowadays. But, overall, I'd say Western RPGs have held up reasonably well for such an old genre. Granted, the genre has evolved a bit, and most big titles are released for consoles as well, but the last few years have had Fallout 3, Borderlands, Mass Effect, Fable 2, The Witcher - all big sellers. Compared to other 80s/90s genres: point-and-click adventure games, shoot-em-ups, beat-em-ups and so on, the RPG genre has managed to survive. But you are right - they sure can't compete with all the JRPGs flooding the market.

As for my feelings on PC RPGs - I don't know. I never personally cared much for the actual game of D&D, and sometimes find those elements irritating in video games. I'll start a game and think, "Jesus, do I really have to pick a race and alignment and so on for every character? Can't I just play the game?" Some old Western RPGs are so stat and number heavy that I feel like I'm filling out my taxes rather than playing a game. On the other hand, I find myself really liking some of the newer console Western RPGs. I'm just now playing Mass Effect, and am quite impressed. I can't say I miss a mouse when playing games like ME or Fallout 3. But these games do have the "pick and play" appeal of so many JRPGs. ME allows you to use a default character if you don't want to putz around with character creation at the start of the game.